Two Iranian-born physicians — Kamiar Alaei and his brother, Arash Alaei — received the inaugural Elizabeth Taylor Award on the opening day of the 19th annual International AIDS Conference, held July 22–27 in Washington.
The brothers pioneered the treatment of HIV and AIDS in Iran, where their work once made them political prisoners. Actress Sharon Stone presented the award, which is sponsored by the Foundation for AIDS Research and the International AIDS Society. The award is named for the late actress Elizabeth Taylor, an advocate of HIV/AIDS research.
According to the award citation, the brothers were honored for “pioneering work in HIV prevention and treatment for people who use drugs in Iran and for your outstanding courage and efforts to advocate for human rights of people affected by HIV.” The Alaeis’ “harm reduction” model slowed the spread of disease in a country where drug users are typically shunned.
Receiving the award “feels very good,” Arash Alaei told reporters. Arrested and jailed in Iran in 2008, the brothers were released from prison (Kamiar, 38, after two years, and Arash, 43, after three years) following an international campaign to secure their freedom led by Physicians for Human Rights.
Today, both brothers live in Albany, New York, and are developing HIV and AIDS treatment programs for South America and the Middle East, with funding from the University of Albany and the World Health Organization.